Whether it’s in a shake or on your plate, it’s the nutrition food of the moment. But how much do you need? Here’s the low-down.
Bread, cereal, pasta, flapjacks, ice cream – you can get just about any foodstuff packed with added protein these days. The P-word stamped on the packaging is a sure-fire way to make a sale, as the nutrient has been marketed as the answer to getting a strong, lean physique. And protein shakes are considered the ultimate post-workout accessory. But is it all hype? And how much should we really be eating?
YOUR IDEAL DOSE
Protein provides the building blocks for everything from muscles to skin and hair, so there’s no doubt it’s vital. “The average person needs about 0.8g of protein per kg body weight a day,” explains dietician and sports nutritionist Chris Cashin, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. “Most people achieve this easily. Often people forget things like bread and pasta contain protein.” There’s nearly 6g in 100g of wholemeal pasta, for example.
TO SHAKE OR NOT TO SHAKE?
“Ideally, aim to consume a sufficient amount of protein from food, as whole foods contain a variety of other nutrients. But if your food intake doesn’t meet your protein needs, a powder or a ready-made shake may be used as a top-up,” says specialist registered dietician Nichola Whitehead.
“Some powders are more or less pure protein, while other powders and shakes contain carbs or other nutrients and may be more of a meal replacement, so look at how the whole package fits with your calorie intake.”
“I mix 1/2 pint of milk with 1 heaped tablespoon skimmed milk powder and milkshake syrup (to taste) to make my own protein shake,” says sports nutritionist Cashin.
When you’re hitting the gym regularly, your protein needs an increase. “When you exercise, you break down muscle and need protein to rebuild it, especially if you’re doing resistance training,” notes Cashin. How much you need depends on how often and hard you work out, the type of exercise you do, your size… It’s far from an exact science. “If you take the average woman who goes to the gym, whether she’s doing cardio or weights, I’d suggest 1-1.2g per kg body weight would be enough,” advises Cashin.
“Get protein from a variety of sources – red meat, poultry, fish, cheese, eggs and vegetarian sources – as this provides a range of nutrients,” says Cashin. “Often people try to eat more protein having chicken, chicken and more chicken.”
Foods with added P-power
1. Fit Pro Peanut Butter. Packs 25% extra protein compared with standard peanut butter – 10g per 2 tbsp serving – because of added peanut flour.
2. Warburtons Protein Wraps. Part of a new higher-protein range from Warburtons, these wraps are made with ingredients including chickpeas and delivers 10g protein each.
3. The Primal Pantry Paleo Protein Bar (Mixed Berries). This all-natural bard made with dates, raspberries and goji berries packs 11g protein for an easy fix on the go.
3 smart ways with protein powder
1. Boost ‘no-bake’ makes: Raw protein balls are easy to make and delicious. “Make sure you add enough ‘wet’ ingredients (e.g honey or nut butter), or the end result will be powdery,” says dietician Whitehead. Try mixing 30g protein powder with 140g peanut butter, then add 1 tbsp honey to make 14 balls. Chill for 30mins before serving.
2. Supercharge sweet treats: “Add porting to your pancake or muffin mix by swapping 1/4-1/3 of the flour for whey protein powder. Don’t add more than this otherwise the finished product will be dry and rubbery.” advises Whitehead.
3. Pimp your porridge: “Stir 1/2-1 scoop whey protein into your porridge once it’s cooked to boost your morning protein intake. I personally like vanilla or chocolate flavor,” says Whitehead.
WHAT ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS?
A quick Google search would seem to suggest that protein is nature’s own slimming pill. And it’s true it may help with managing weight. “Protein is very satisfying, so it can help to make you feel full,” says Cashin. So she suggests those on a weight-loss mission might consider upping their intake too. But, she stresses, it’s still vital to keep a check on your total calorie intake. Protein provides 4kcal per gram, so it’s not a case of the more you eat, the slimmer you’ll get. If only…
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